Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator: Which Is Right For You? With Mary Jo Fiorella

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Interior designer vs interior decorator: what’s the difference, and which should you choose when designing your home?

Eclectic design for the modern home

Fiorella Design is a Bay Area-based interior design firm, established by Mary Jo Fiorella in 2002, that specializes in residential and commercial interior spaces. “My aesthetic is eclectic,” she says. “I like so many things–clean lines, metals, glass, rustic woods, natural linens, mid-century modern, antiques, etc.–that my taste has to be eclectic.”

There is a difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator, so be sure to know what you’re looking to have done.

Why did you decide to become an interior designer?

After earning a BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology, I worked for several large firms, learning the ropes and designing corporate office interiors. Within a few short years, I was ready to take my dreams to the next level, so I packed my bags and headed west to San Francisco. Over the next decade, I worked diligently to build a solid foundation and a steady client base, which culminated in the launch of Fiorella Design in 2002. Ever since, I’ve been working on beautiful homes for wonderful clients all over the Bay Area.


What’s a product every room needs?

Artwork. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it shows your personality, it adds color and depth to the space

What’s the best place to find affordable artwork?

Etsy is a favorite, as well as flea markets. I love flea markets. Often I just shop for frames at flea markets and then if I find an inexpensive piece of art, I’ll spray paint the frame to work with the art, and all together it makes the entire piece look like a million bucks!

What’s a design hint that never fails you that you’ve picked up over the course of your career?

Rooms need to be well lit. Use a mix of overhead lighting, art or bookcase lighting and then very important, table and floor lamps, and always use dimmers. Again, it adds depth to a room and gives the user options for reading, or watching a movie, or playing games, etc.


Running your own business can be tough. What keeps you motivated and inspired?

Something that keeps me motivated is a client who is open for creative ideas, who trusts me and my experience as a designer, someone who’s looking for help to push the edge a little. The worst client is the one that’s too fearful and won’t let you do your job and questions you at every turn.

I also enjoy trade shows to see and experience new products. I’ll see something and want to design an entire space around that one unique item.


What’s some advice you would give to those who are new to hiring an interior designer?

There is a difference between an interior designer vs interior decorator, so be sure to know what you’re looking to have done. If  you’re doing a remodel, you should work with a schooled, certified interior designer. If you’re looking for fabrics or paint color ideas, or a few new pieces of furniture, then it’s alright to use an interior decorator. Always check references or see reviews. Always understand what their role was in a project if they show you photos of a space they worked on.


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